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Beautiful Tibetan

September 26, 2010

I have always been fascinated by mountains. My father was a mountaineer in his youth, so a love of mountains must be somewhere in my genes. Unfortunately, I have loved them vicariously most of my life. The Ural Mountains, next to which I live, are old and weathered and really look like hills. Last time I stood on top of something that could qualify as a mountain was 23 year ago. I was 15 and I had climbed some minor Caucasian peak with my father and a group of tourists.

On the way up, my foot had slipped and I went tumbling down the slope. Not a very steep slope, fortunately, but before I realized what was going on I was lying with my head next to a large boulder and my legs pointing toward the sky. I continued the ascent with my knees trembling. When we reached the summit, however, a panoramic view of the Great Caucasian Range unfolded before me, and the trembling was gone; suddenly I felt  ecstatic and awed by the beauty of nature. It almost felt like I was drunk (of course at that age I couldn’t compare). I wanted to laugh and sing. I remember the feeling very well, and the Range is still standing like a photographic image in front of my eyes. I haven’t been to real mountains since.

I think people who live their entire lives surrounded by mountains are a sublime race. I really believe there is something special about them. The beauty and grandeur of mountains is in their blood. Their eyes are directed toward the sky.

Tibetan peoples are like that. Generations and generations of people living in Tibet and the Himalayas have owned the beauty.

Just listen to these Tibetan songs and feel it.

Tibetan is a language, and Tibetan are languages. There are 25 mutually unintelligible Tibetan languages belonging to the Sino-Tibetan language family. The ‘main’ one is Standard Tibetan. The 25 languages are further subdivided into about 220 dialects. The situation with languages and dialects is complicated by politics. In China, for political reasons, the dialects of central Tibet, Khams and Amdo are considered dialects of a single Tibetan language, while Dzongkha (official language of Bhutan), Sikkimese, Sherpa and Ladakhi are considered separate languages, despite the fact that Dzongkha and Sherpa are closer to Lhasa Tibetan than Khams or Amdo are.

Sadly, the destinies of the language are enmeshed in politics in more ways than just the issue of dialects. In an extensive report entitled China’s Attempts to Wipe Out the Language and Culture of Tibet published on the official site of Central Tibetan government, various organizations and individuals comment on the marginalization of Tibetan. Here are some quotes:

[Despite the fact that Tibetans constitute 96% of Tibet’s total population], “in the organs of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government and in the varying levels of schools, Tibetan language is gradually being replaced by Chinese. In civil service examinations, there are no Tibetan language tests at all. Government documents are almost always unavailable in Tibetan. In any meeting, big or small, the leaders make their speeches only in Chinese. Therefore, in the social lives of Tibetans, Tibetan language is increasingly being reduced to a valueless status.”

“The areas where Tibetan language can be used are shrinking [by the day]”.

“Generally in the Tibet Autonomous Region, while taking university and college examinations, Tibetan language is given either only 50% weightage or sometimes no weightage at all.”

“That the Tibetan language is not treated with dignity, or for that matter is not utilised, is the harmful effect of the wind called “assimilation” that is blowing. The sharp pain caused by this wind is still being felt [in Tibet].”

“Tsering Dhondup Dherong, a Tibetan intellectual and Communist Party member, has cited three principal reasons for this in his book Bdag Gyi Re-smon. The first, he said, is the Chinese government’s chauvinistic policy, which accelerates the process of Sinicisation; the second is the notion of Tibetan being a worthless language in today’s society; and the third, the inferiority complex suffered by Tibetans, which hampers their initiatives to maintain and protect their own language.”

Of all the above facts, it is the inferiority complex thing that is most alarming to me. I am afraid that if the people themselves have been made to feel inferior speaking their native language, there is little chance that the language might ever rise to a higher status, and its journey toward extinction has already begun.

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